HotNewHipHop published a big editorial piece ranking the top 50 best rappers exclusively on their flow. That was a collective effort and writers paid attention to “the most innovative, adept, genre-pushing, evolving, malleable, versatile flows of all time”, trying to establish who contributed to the genre the most, whose verses slid right into golden standards.
The top 5 of this list looks like this:
3. Notorious B.I.G.
2. lil Wayne
1. Andre 3000
In the section dedicated to Eminem, they wrote:
While Eminem is often the source of both fan and critic’s disparagement when he releases any hint of music in 2019, we can’t forget the zany and explosive flows he brought to the scene during his humble beginnings. As far back as Infinite, Eminem has been clearly cultivating and working on both his cadence and flow. Whatever differences have affected his vocal cords with age and, well, life, at the outset, he was known for his slightly pitched-up cadence. With Infinite, he was still a bit more grounded in an old school hip-hop style (“3:13”), however, that would evolve as he became more and more comfortable with reaching into the darkest corners of his mind (and traces of this were evidenced on Infinite’s “Backstabber”), and, as well, inducing squirmish behavior in the listener.
Eminem didn’t fully arrive until everyone knew his name thanks to the aptly-titled “My Name Is…” Part of the allure with Eminem that transcends, and lifts up his flow is his unique animation and cartoon-ish behavior, as evidence on the aforementioned song as well as songs that would follow: “The Real Slim Shady,” “Ass Like That.”
In other instances, Eminem would veer off into much darker territory, with a flow to match: “Mockingbird” found Eminem sobering up his flow to match the piano-laden beat and heavy subject matter, whereas “Criminal” found him hardening up his flow, sharpening his words to keep pace with the edgy beat. Not only that, it found him altering his words in order to make both his rhyme scheme and flow work:
“My words are like a dagger with a jagged edge / That’ll stab you in the head, whether you’re a fag or lez / Or the homosex, hermaph or a trans-a-vest Pants or dress, hate fags? / The answer’s ‘yes’”
Eminem has often explored horrific storylines in his music, whether it’s pulling from real life experiences or his (f*cked up) imagination. We’d like to think “Stay Wide Awake” is the latter though, and it’s another amazing example of just how well Eminem manipulates the English language to make his flow work. The song appeared on his underrated Relapse album, a project that showcases plenty of serial killer and murderous fantasies on wax. However on “Stay Wide Awake” specifically, Eminem does something extremely interesting with his flow (also it feels apt that he starts the song with this line: “Soon as my flow starts I compose art like the ghost of Mozart”).
Eminem chillingly describes creeping up to an innocent woman in Central Park and raping her and killing triplet babies as soon as they’re born with a mix of formaldahyde and cyanide. As strange and haunting as the subject matter is, so too is Em’s linking of his words and sentences– he strategically breaks up his bars to give you his thoughts in almost piecemeal manner, sometimes even breaking up the word itself into two bars:
“Fe-fi-fo-fum, I think I smell the scent of a placenta / I enter Central Park, it’s dark, it’s winter in December / I see my target, put my car in park, and approach a tender / Young girl by the name of Brenda, and I pretend to befriend her / Sit down beside her like a spider, hi there girl, you mighta / Heard of me before, see whore, you’re the kind of girl that I’d a– / -ssault and rape, then figure why not try to make your pussy wider”
In this chunk from the first verse, you can see how “assault,” for example, begins on one bar and is finished on another. The fact that Eminem does this and still manages to make the story clear for the listener is phenomenal. He continues the feat, getting into even more sinister territory, leaving each final word on an upswing that he picks back up in his flow on the bar that follows:
“Fuck you with an umbrella then open it up while the shit’s inside ya / I’m the kind of guy that’s mild but I might flip and get a little bit wilder / Impregnate a lesbian, yeah, now let’s see her have triplets, and I’ll di– / -sintegrate them babies as soon as they’re out her with formalde– / -hyde and cyanide, girl, you can try and hide, you can try to scream louder”
While we often praise Eminem for his lyrical dexterity, his flow is perhaps one aspect of his artistry that is under-praised.
Read the full list here